How Toyota’s ‘Five Whys’ can help transform the energy industry

Nov 14, 2019

Written By

Tommy Mortberg

Head of Pre-Sales

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How you can use the Five Whys problem-solving tool to help you identify root-causes faster, and design better solutions for your customers.

How is the Five Whys Technique beneficial to decision making processes?

As highlighted in our previous article, ‘11 Things to consider with complex software purchasing’, uncovering and focusing on the root causes of problems is key to making the right technology and design choices.

With the energy industry undergoing a period of significant change, this puts even more pressure on teams to make the right decisions, fast.

The ‘Five Whys?’ technique was identified as a tool for delving deeper to expose the root cause of a given issue and help inform better solution design. The aim is to give leadership the direction required to implement anything from a new process, to a new business strategy.

Origins of the Five Whys technique

The ‘Five Whys’ root cause tool was first developed in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda, the inventor and industrialist who founded Toyota industries. It has since become a key pillar in Toyota’s problem-solving methodology and philosophy.

From the 1970s it has become widely popular and used in industries beyond Toyota by other teams striving to adopt lean management techniques and philosophies.

What is the Five Whys Technique?

“By repeating ‘why?’ five times, the nature of [a] problem as well as its solution becomes clear.” - Tailichi Ohno, Toyota

This is the foundation of the Five Whys tool, a simple methodology for interrogating the cause and effect relationship in any problem.

The technique exposes weaknesses through asking the question ‘Why?’ repeatedly in succession to the previous response. This should then uncover the root cause and usually a clear way forward to fix the underlying problem, preventing the problem from arising again.

How the Five Whys technique could be used in the energy industry to help with digital transformation

In the blog ‘11 Things to consider with complex software purchasing’, we highlighted the potential to use Five Whys when contemplating whether current organisational problems could be resolved through technology and better product design.

Whilst there is no single answer to digital transformation, the Five Why’s approach can be used as a great starting point and can help to break down a large problem into more manageable chunks.

By using the processes to meet specific challenges or pain points alongside an agile approach to delivery, suppliers can start to make frequent, incremental improvements that better meet customer’s expectations.

Here’s an example of the Five Whys potentially being used by an energy supplier:

1 - Why did the customer call customer services?

They were upset they had been billed a larger sum than normal

2 - Why had their bill increased?

They didn’t know their energy contract had come to an end and they had rolled onto a different tariff

3 - Why didn’t they know their contract was coming to an end?

There was no notification process set up in the billing platform to pass on the message to the customer

4 - Why was there no notification process set up in the billing platform?

Because the billing process is largely batch driven, making proactive alerting difficult.

5 - Why is the billing process batch driven?

Our billing engine is monolithic by design, so any real-time or event driven messaging is difficult. Moving to an event driven billing platform would solve this problem.

Interested to read the article on ‘11 Things to consider with complex software purchasing’? Equally, if you’d like to understand more about how you could transform your organisation digitally, contact:

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